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11 March 2019updated 09 Sep 2021 3:35pm

Titania McGrath’s tired and unfunny “joke” is just the old sneering at the young

The parody character is aimed at those who claim “you can’t say anything anymore”, while their opinions are constantly repeated on TV and in the papers.

By Mollie Goodfellow

Titania McGrath has 215,000 Twitter followers. In her bio she describes herself as a “Radical intersectionalist poet.” Her book, Woke: A Guide to Social Justice, was released earlier this month. Her online persona is that of a young millennial, left-leaning woman, jumping from being offended by one thing to the other at breakneck speed. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Titania McGrath is that she is not real.

She is an invention of Andrew Doyle, a writer and comedian, possibly best known as the co-creator of similarly fictional character Jonathan Pie, the newsreader who gets annoyed at whatever news story he is covering and just ends up shouting at the end. Every time. You’d think that he’d get a new career if he was so mad about it, but I digress.

The idea of Titania is a simple one – to lampoon the young and left-leaning who believe in things like gender equality, not being a racist or sexist, and so on. For instance one tweet calls out Apple for being transphobic for autocorrecting “womxn”, a term some use to include trans women as well as cis, to “women”. The whole “joke” is a classic example of older generations dumping on those younger than them for wanting life to be different than it was for those that came before.

I have to confess it is not really my humour. It feels like the lowest common denominator. As a young woman online who often discusses topics such as feminism, and often receives a misogynistic backlash, it stings a bit to see a grown man parody this to such acclaim.

Typically, right-wing media outlets have flocked to his (her?) side, showering Titania with acclaim and praise for her new book. The Daily Mail has run an article written by her. Sarah Vine calls her the “millennial successor” to Bridget Jones.

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I suppose this is the target audience for Titania: the people who claim “you can’t say anything anymore”, even as their opinions are repeated constantly on national TV, in the papers and online. The sort of people who question whether feminism has “gone too far” and say “people will be offended by anything these days”, just after saying something offensive.

Something else that feels particularly odd is the fact that Doyle decided to make his character a woman. For the most part, being a woman involved in activism online is not a great place. You are opening yourself up for a torrent of abuse and threats of violence. You just need to look at the comments aimed at outspoken women online and wonder how they ever log back on again. It feels telling that the comedian would decide to take on the guise of a young, female activist rather than a man. It plays into the idea that young women are frivolous, hysterical and not to be taken seriously. Why listen to what young women have to say when you can just ridicule and laugh at them?

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The entire notion of a middle-aged man parodying a young woman feels entirely weird to me. Of course you are going to be baffled by the activism and language of the young, it is not for you. There is something very “Look at me! Look at me!” in the way some among older generations respond when young people are trying to make their mark in the world.

Perhaps the worst crime of Titania McGrath is that she simply isn’t that funny. Once you get over the initial laugh of “Ha, this account is spot on, young people *are* sick of bigotry and they aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves” the joke gets old rather quickly. There is no end of volunteers sticking their hands up to make fun of the “woke” youth. There is nothing new or refreshing about sneering at younger generations. The trope of the hyper-offended has existed for years now, it’s been done to death.

Then again, the level of acclaim from some sections of the media suggests Doyle could be on to a good thing with Titania. Perhaps it will inspire me to create a parody account of an older white man obsessed with youth politics. He’ll be insistent that his views and voice are being stifled, but will have a weekly opinion column in the Daily Papergraph. He will repeatedly insist that the mainstream media don’t want people to hear his hot takes as he prepares for his latest appearance on The Andrew Marr Show or Sky News. He will take supper with Andrew Neil and golf with Nigel Farage. He will be the voice of the people – but not those people. Like Titania, he will be everything that already exists online but unlike Titania, he will be funny. 

Mollie Goodfellow is a freelance journalist and comedy writer.

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